There are some characters we never want to die, some we wish to live on eternally being reinvented or added to with time. Sherlock Holmes is one such figure. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation has ingrained himself as one of the world’s most beloved fictional characters. The decision to imagine Holmes’ future is nothing new, and can work exceedingly well as proven with the recent cinematic piece Mr Holmes. So when Simon Reade created Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain, surely he thought success was, Holmes’ own choice of word, elementary?
Taking place thirty years following The Final Problem – in which the detective’s nemesis Moriarty plunges from the Reichenbach Falls taking Holmes with him toward an apparent death – Holmes finds himself at the centre of a murder: A murder which involves the return of Watson, and his estranged wife. In tow is her deceased son and a touch of the supernatural. So far it sounds appealing, no?
The rich narrative associated with Doyle, however, is absent within this production. The usual joy in any Sherlock Holmes tale is that of the chase – finding the clues ourselves littered before us throughout the show. With the slimmest sliver of a plot, the actual mystery seems to be entirely forgotten until the second half. Even then, perhaps we shouldn’t have bothered with it as it is hastily “explained” away. The great reveals are either spotted a mile off by any Sherlocked fan or have zero impact on our characters’ motives. Watson is described (wonderfully) as the whetstone to Holmes’ mind while, regrettably, this script is most likely the damp squib to counteract this.
Tragically underused, Robert Powell seems to have had little-to-no input on his interpretation of Holmes. Every performer, talented or squandered has, in essence, something they brought to the world’s only consulting detective. Benedict Cumberbatch’s hugely successful run pinpointed the high functioning sociopath. The marvellous Basil Rathbone cemented the relationship Holmes and Watson have, and for many his image is the defining Holmes. Even Walt Disney’s Great Mouse Detective has more dimensions than that of Powell.
Liza Goddard, along with Powell, drudges through the motions. It is evident the difficulty a bare script presents to such a talented actor, both of whom are constrained by Reade’s dialogue. With the exemption of an enticing albeit wasted scene where the Holme’s brothers re-connect, most of the production feels drab. It suffers heavily from not following the number one rule of storytelling, “show, don’t tell”. We’re informed time and again that Holmes is proud, though we never witness such behaviour. Denied the chance to see the inner workings of Holmes’ detective work, his grand deductions come merely because the script says so.
Some joy can be taken from the production design. Charmingly crafted, the married physical design of the set with the lighting creates cliché yet inventive illusions. It is a real shame the inclusion of vaudevillian transitions spoil these. With a flowing curtain that sweeps across the stage, scene changes are akin to the flicked pages of a Conan Doyle novella. This, of course, is when we don’t see a stagehand scamper across the stage or a lamp suddenly hurled offstage.
A theatrical staging of Sherlock Holmes should never feel like another medium, Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain has a midday ITV2 special feel about it. The contrived plot, lack of chemistry and overly clichéd tropes makes one hope that Conan Doyle’s lustre for the supernatural never came to fruition. For in his spirit, this production does not live.